With the inaugural season of the Longines League of Nations™ kicking off this weekend, over the past few weeks we've been taking a closer look at the 10 nations that have qualified to compete and be the first to hoist the new trophy at the Final in Barcelona.
Today, we look at the last of the 10 nations and top of the ranking leading into the series, Ireland...
Often referred to as the ‘Land of the Horse’, Ireland is a leader in producing sporthorses and riding talent, with the famous green jackets being predominant atop podiums around the world over the years.
Having won the Longines FEI Jumping Nation’s Cup™ in 2019, as well as a 2023 European Championships silver medal under their belts, Ireland is well aware of the demands and delights these team Jumping events offer, and are ready for the sweet taste of victory again under Chef d’Equipe Michael Blake.
Blake has been instrumental in the Irish federation as Team Ireland Senior Jumping Development Manager and Assistant Team Manager to the Irish senior Jumping team, playing a critical role in their previous Nations Cup win as well as their 2017 European Championship title - and he’s ready to use all of that experience and insight to take it again:
“To win a Nations Cup has always been up there for me as the highest honour and as the number one ranked nation in the competition, we will be… putting our best foot forward to cement that position throughout the Longines League of Nations™.”
As ten teams make their way to Abu Dhabi - a brand new venue - for the first of four qualifiers, we caught up with Blake about his team’s approach to the League, and what it means to the sport and supporters.
Ireland has a rich history in horsemanship. How do you view the Longines League of Nations™ as an opportunity to celebrate Ireland's historical significance in equestrian sports and create a new chapter in the nation's horsemanship?
"Ireland has long been revered in the sport and for decades we have produced some of the world's best horses and riders, with legendary names such as Tommy Wade, Seamus Hayes and Eddie Macken paving the way for the current crop of stars we have representing Ireland in the green jacket in the 2024 Longines League of Nations™.
So many of our riders are ranked very highly in world rankings, and we are the world number-one team going into this competition. That is testament to the programme we have built, through Ponies, Juniors and Young Riders, and you can see the depth of talent Ireland has coming through".
"This competition gives us an opportunity to showcase our athletes, human and equine, and I'm sure they will do their nation proud as we aim towards the Final in Barcelona".
Michael Blake (IRL)
Longines emphasises the importance of tradition and innovation. How does your team integrate these elements into your Jumping strategy and overall team dynamics?
*"For Team Ireland, Nations Cup Jumping is the pinnacle for us and the development of the concept is so important. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing a national team working together. When you look at the emotions, the “kiss and cry” when each Nation is competing, it is easy to see the pride, excitement and elation when it goes well - we use this to galvanise our team. *
Nothing is more important to our riders than jumping for their country and even though Jumping could be seen as an individual sport in most cases, for riders the dynamic changes completely when it becomes a Nations Cup. We are extremely grateful to Longines for their continued and unstinting support of the Series. It is of paramount importance to protect the tradition of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™".
Does being top of the ranking lead you in with confidence, or is the team feeling the pressure and how do they translate this into a positive effect?
*"Everyone wants to be ranked as highly as possible and there is no better ranking than number one - it's where we always strive to be and it's something we are very proud of. With that comes obvious pressure, but we welcome that pressure and we will try to instil the importance of what the series means in each and every rider who represents this team. *
Once this series starts, we are all equal and we will concentrate on our own performances throughout the series and do our best to have a successful campaign".
Follow the thrills on FEI.tv as the first leg kicks off on 11 February in Abu Dhabi.
Article courtesy of the FEI and written by: Georgie Roberts